Security

Feds warn HealthCare.gov users about Heartbleed

The federal government is asking users of HealthCare.gov to change their passwords as a result of the recently discovered Heartbleed vulnerability that allows hackers to get around encryption on networks protected by the open-source OpenSSL security code.

Although officials say they do not have evidence that the Heartbleed vulnerability has put user information at risk, HealthCare.gov operators reset more than 8 million site passwords and published a message on the home page advising users to create new passwords.

It is the first time a federal website has taken that step since the disclosure of the cybersecurity threat, but the action is in keeping with federal website policy announced in an April 18 blog post by Phyllis Schneck, deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security. The policy requires federal sites that might be vulnerable to the flaw to update OpenSSL, reissue security certificates and reset user passwords.

The operators of HealthCare.gov appear to have taken all those steps. The site's security certificate was reissued on April 14, and passwords were reset. Those steps suggest that the site is using new OpenSSL software. Nevertheless, officials are reassuring users that their information is most likely not at risk.

"Since being made aware of the vulnerability, the [Obama] administration took action to protect networks and websites," a HealthCare.gov spokesperson told FCW in an emailed statement. "As with any vulnerability or threat in cyberspace, the federal government -- [and the Department of Health and Human Services] in this instance -- has a standard process for addressing how it may impact the infrastructure, and [officials] are using that to mitigate this vulnerability and monitor for problems."

An advisory posted on HealthCare.gov on April 18 reads, "HealthCare.gov uses many layers of protections to secure your information. While there's no indication that any personal information has ever been at risk, we have taken steps to address Heartbleed issues and reset consumers' passwords out of an abundance of caution."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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